How to Tell Stories With Your Photographs

The best images do two things at once: deliver information and evoke emotion. The best way to achieve both is to make sure your image tells a story.

When you’re looking at a photo, whether you know it or not, you’re reading a kind of text. What you absorb as you ‘read’ depends partly on you and partly on the photographer.

Personally, I love embedding ambiguous narratives into my photographs – pulling the viewer into a story, but leaving them with some work to do to figure out exactly what it means to them.

The photograph I featured in this YouTube video is a great example. I had a very specific concept and narrative in mind – one which required lots of careful planning and preparation to achieve. Once we’d finalised the concept and acquired all of the necessary props and materials, it was simply a matter of waiting for the right conditions.

Team planning meeting in the studio with fashion model and props

Trouble in paradise

It begins with a utopian scene – in this case, my back garden on a sunny day! Though I’d like to say the hedge always looks that pristine, the truth is I brought in a landscaper especially to achieve that perfect, angular look.

The next ingredient is a classic 1950s American housewife, complete with pearl necklace, formal outfit, vintage shoes and classic mid-century hairdo.

Fashion model on set behind the scenes

Also crucial to the shot were the props – specifically, the wooden ladder and old-fashioned garden shears. These details were essential for creating an authentic and convincing narrative.

The day of the shoot

As we got set up, it became a race against time to make sure everything was ready before we lost the best of the morning light and the sun moved too far overhead.

Once everything was in place, it was time to start shooting. Our intrepid model Kariss fell off her ladder dozens of times as we tried out different poses, angles, and exposures. And don’t worry - as you can see in the screen grab below, she wasn’t holding real shears as she fell!

Fashion model jumping from ladder behind the scenes

What’s the story?

The title of this shot, which I had in mind from the beginning, is ‘Hazards of the Perfection Paradigm’. For me, it’s all about the perils of striving for a false idea of perfection – especially one imposed on you by society.

The final fashion image, model falling from ladder

I did my best to tell the story as persuasively as I could. But, as with any narrative, every ‘reader’ will form their own interpretation. As photographers, our job is to tell the stories we want to tell. But ultimately we have to accept that the meanings of our images will never be set in stone. It’s all part of the fun!

To watch the full-length video about the making of this image, go to the class: Conceptual Fashion Photography: Hazards of the Perfection Paradigm.

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